I'd noticed a man walking into the coffee shop before me. He looked rather disheveled, maybe in need of a shower and some fresh clothes. When I was in line behind him he was pointing at some food item in the display case mumbling to himself. Eventually he ordered a small coffee and paid with a crumpled up five dollar bill. I didn't think much of it and ordered my black coffee. Noticing I had some time to kill I decided to sit for a while and catch up on the news on my phone. I found a table by the door, but as I walked by where the man was sitting I noticed a couple tables with two dollar coins sitting on the top right in the middle. Nobody was sitting at them. I found this super curious, but found my empty table and began surfing news sites.
I was sort of curious about the money sitting on the tables and glanced up occasionally to see what was going to happen. I wondered if anyone would take them. The coffee shop was unusually quiet and a staff person was cleaning tables. She spotted the money and picked it up. The man also had one at his table and he remarked to her that the money had been there when he sat down. She took it assuming I guess that it was left as a tip. I was satisfied this was the end of my curious morning and returned to reading.
The man stood up and walked to the door, but then veered to my table and handed me a twenty dollar bill. I was speechless. I can't remember what I said but he quipped that Jesus told him I needed the money. He then turned and left.
I sat there for a while staring at this money. I was baffled. I thought, this has been some sort of social experiment with the coins and a reaction to me not taking them. Someone is secretly video-recording this. I considered how I felt being handed money by a man I would have expected to ask me for money. Then I looked up and noticed there were fresh two dollar coins on the tables again. He must have left them on his way out.
Eventually I decided to go outside. I'd debated leaving the money on the table, but that didn't seem right. When outside I saw the man smoking a cigarrette. My curiosity peaked I had to go chat with him. "This is some kind of social experiment right? The money and the coins on the table?"
He looks at me and says "One thing has nothing to do with the other." He said something about Hell and Angels and that someone told him I needed the money. I was baffled. I considered how humbling it was to be a regular middle class guy being handed money by a man I'd have pegged as someone in need. I was curious about the coins. He walked off and I went to my car after saying something awkwardly about paying it forward.
So the entire drive to work I'm trying to reflect on how it felt to be given money by a random stranger. How I'd made up a story about him, as we always do, about his station in life. I'd assumed he was poor. Maybe he was, maybe he wasn't. I'd assumed with him talking to the food case that he maybe had a mental health issue. Maybe he did, maybe he didn't. I was left with realizing how much he'd humbled me. How with twenty dollars he had bought my humility and self reflection. I consider myself to be somewhat perceptive of people, and gentle in judgements, but it was revealed to me how much further I have to go.
And now I'm left with a conundrum. What do I do with that twenty dollars? I could simply drop it in a donation bin, hand it to a street busker. I could divide it into coins and leave them on random tables. Give it to a charity. I have no idea. No situation presented itself to me. I could of course go out for lunch, which in some way would seem to ultimately accept his charity toward me, but it also leaves me unsatisified.
What would you do?